Late last year, as #MeToo spread from social Networking feeds in the United States, intensifying to a Ton of global hashtags — #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, and #QuellaVoltaChe among them — two women in the Senegalese capital of Dakar decided to Begin a movement of their own:
“Nopiwouma was not going to work like Me Too, since in Senegalese culture it is hard for us to even get people to talk about it,” Senegalese blogger Ndambaw Kama (NK) Thiat, who co-founded the movement with technology entrepreneur Olivia Codou, told CNN.
In the West African nation, where the vast majority of the populace is Muslim and traditional gender roles persist, speaking out about abuse is frustrated. Wolof words such as”masla” (to endure ),”soutoura” (discretion), and”muñ” (to practice patience( to survive ) — often used when a woman is assaulted or harassed — fortify this culture of jealousy.
Since Thiat and Codou started #Nopiwouma on Twitter in November 2017 and created a Google type for women to file anonymous reports, they have received over 100 unverified accounts of abuse and harassment, many from women who had never talked about their experiences — privately or openly. Thiat and Codou say they have been sent even more through direct messages on social networking platforms, texts, emails, and are frequently approached in person. Many who have gotten connected are strangers, others are close friends.
“For 90 percent of people that write in, it is the first time they’ve talked about it. Many might have advised their parents if they were young, but were asked not to talk out since it was going to impact their family’s reputation,” Thiat, 31, said over brunch at a cafe and cafe store in Dakar’s bustling business district.
Soon after beginning her blog, Planet of NK, where she writes about Senegalese culture and society, Thiat began receiving private messages and comments from women sharing stories of rape, abuse and harassment.
Unable to keep up with the volume, she opened a contributions section on her site where she could post reports delivered to her . When Thiat partnered with Codou about #Nopiwouma the notion was exactly the same — making a forum for girls to talk out — but the intent was to not get women to name their alleged abusers.
“Culturally, I wasn’t expecting people to come out with names, such as Harvey Weinstein, because they would be too scared,” Thiat explained. However, while the former movie producer was arrested and charged, he has yet to be convicted of anything. Thiat says that if it is difficult to find justice from the USA, she finds it hard to imagine it happening in Senegal.
“For people to really come out and say that this is the man who did it… I think it’s too premature for that to occur in Senegal at this time,” Thiat added.
According to a 2017 demographic and health survey performed by Senegal’s National Statistics Agency, 8 percent of Senegalese girls reported having suffered acts of sexual violence at some point in their lives, but women’s rights activists guess this amount is considerably underreported.
In precisely the exact same poll, one in four girls aged 15 to 49 have, at any point in time, seasoned acts of domestic violence — psychological, physical or sexual — at the hands of a husband or spouse.
Sexual abuse of teenage girls in Senegal’s secondary schools is widespread, according to a current Human Rights Watch (HRW) report. Girls interviewed by HRW stated their teachers lured them to have sexual activity in exchange for better grades, food, cellular phones, and new clothes.
Women in Senegal, as in many African nations, can’t say they are victims of rape because they’re stigmatized, based on Alpha Ba, UN Women communication specialist, West and Central Africa.
“There is a kind of don’t-ask-don’t-tell around the matter,” Ba said, adding that legislation to prosecute cases of rape and domestic violence isn’t yet concrete, and advancement to change that’s slow.
Senegalese law prohibits rape, which is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment, however, the legislation doesn’t address marital rights and rape observers say it’s rarely enforced. CNN has reached out into the Ministry of Justice for comment.
Last year, while women around the world were engaging in the #MeToo motion, Codou decided to do the same, going live on Instagram to talk about her own experience of sexual assault for the first time.
“There was the entire worldwide movement of’Me Too’ and that I felt as though it was time for me to talk, but there’s been a great deal of backlash,” Codou, today 30, told CNN.
From the air-conditioned workplace where she works in a company incubator space along with other young Senegalese entrepreneurs, Codou states that when she started #Nopiwouma individuals warned her not to associate with all the taboo topic, stating that it could hurt her startup — a burgeoning tourism platform.
“There is a great deal of backlash in case you speak about certain things here, but I think it’s vital to get that courage,” Codou explained.
She’s resolute about speaking out in the hopes it will enable other women to do the same.
“Due to the culture of entry , we as girls don’t come forward as far as stating titles, for example,’he did so, he did that to me,'” Codou said. “Nopiwouma was about putting the emphasis on the survivors and giving them the platform to have the ability to find solutions to overcome any trauma they had.”
Representing more than half of the country’s population, Senegal’s youth could play a critical role in changing the manner gender-based violence is discussed.
Demonstrators march to stop violence against girls in central Dakar on Sunday, December 9.
The obelisk, that commemorates Senegal’s 1960 independence from France, throw a long shadow over the square as organizers from local non-governmental associations and grassroots groups handed orange T-shirts to participants.
One of them had been Fatima Zahra Ba, a 25-year-old Senegalese fashion designer who recently started a hashtag of her own: #Doyna, so”that’s enough” in Wolof. Ba started the effort as part of the UN’s 16 days of activism to end violence against girls .
While girls are posting on social websites together with all the hashtag, few are coming forward with their own experiences of abuse, the designer says.
“Girls can’t break the silence if they don’t feel at ease doing so, and that’s the problem here in Senegal, you truly feel like everybody knows what’s happening… but people are just like,’Oh, it is alright. It happens to everyone.’ There’s no condemnation.”
“People don’t understand how bad the whole situation is, due to the culture of silence that prevails here,” she added.
The young artist is working together with other activists attempting to shift that mentality — both on line and in person — but their efforts continue to be scattered and the aims difficult to pin down.
“What I realized through this campaign is that the net can’t do it all. It is an awesome tool, but you can’t reach everyone,” Ba said.
Fatima Zahra Ba in the rally in Dakar.
Rokhaya Ngom, a UN Youth Volunteer serving as an advocate with UNICEF, has been operating with Fatima Zahra Ba and Codou to try to translate their online initiatives into action, organizing peer-to-peer groups for women aged 12- to 18-years-old to talk about harassment and assault. She states that although the anonymity of the internet makes discussing the subject easier, it’s critical to break down those barriers in actual life.
Still, thousands of girls in Senegal have found refuge in the anonymity of the internet, seeking solace in closed groups where they can speak their mind.
Oumy Ndour, a former journalist with Radiodiffusion Télévision Sénégalaise, Senegal’s public broadcasting company, co-founded the personal Facebook group Ladies Club Senegal in 2016 to serve as a safe space for girls to talk openly about everything from novelty, to issues with their husbands, harassment in the workplace, and fashion advice.
She admits that a lot of her time is spent making sure men don’t infiltrate the bar.
“To end taboos about sexuality in a country like Senegal it’s going to take maybe more than one creation,” Ndour says. “Things are starting to change because of social media and the net. People have programs that can help them express themselves concerning these problems in an anonymous way, but the path is quite long to finish taboo in Senegal.”
The nation must first focus on tackling stigma before embracing a movement such as #MeToo, Ndour added.
A sign with the phrase”Doyna,” or”that’s enough” in Wolof, is observed supporting the Henriett-Bathily Women’s Museum in Dakar.
And the reality is that groups such as Ndour’s, and social media moves at large, reach just a sliver of the populace — at 2016, only a quarter of Senegal has been around the world wide web.
Soukeyna Ndao Diallo, a lawyer and member of the Senegalese Association of Women Jurists (AJS), a legal support team that conducts drop-in centres for girls in Dakar, says that while concepts like #Nopiwouma and #Doyna could be positive, they’re only accessible to an elite portion of society.
“The vast majority of women are suffering in silence. We must concentrate on those that are actually in need. Those movements like Nopiwouma are nice, they’re trendy, but I’m not certain they take into consideration the fact for the great majority of girls in Senegal,” Diallo says.
It is something which Codou and Thiat are acutely aware of, and they’re working with classes such as AJS and other NGOs on how best to extend their assignment from the confines of the world wide web to cities and cities throughout the country.
“We must be aware of the realities rather than try to push a western concept,” Codou says.
“We have to try to find our own alternative, based on our own worth and how our society works.”